Why Steve Jobs Acolytes Should Focus on Mickey Drexler

TurtleneckJust ran across this piece by Tyler Brûlé in FT. In “Kylie, me and client focus,” Brûlé punctuates what I’ve been saying to people lately about J Crew CEO (and Sun Valley denizen) Mickey Drexler — that he’d make a great dean of a business school.

For those Steve Jobs acolytes who obsess over the Jobsian management style, they might want to consider Drexler as their main focal point instead. I would encourage many to metaphorically trade in their “black turtlenecks” for some J Crew duds.

Drexler was a close associate of Jobs and is a member of Apple’s board of directors. He advised Apple on their retail strategy, and is often called “the Steve Jobs of retail.

Like Steve, he is known for:

  • Impressive revenue, profit, and market share growth under his tenure
  • His ability to recognize and cultivate talent
  • Being a proud micro-manager
  • Insisting on tight control over product and distribution
  • Not competing on price
  • Following his instincts and taste
  • Rising like a phoenix after corporate exile (he was dismissed as CEO of Gap, inc.)
  • Not fetishizing social media as the ultimate engagement medium

That being said, there are several aspects to the Drexler style of management that deviate from Jobs and may apply better to more real-world entrepreneurs and managers. Here are a couple essential ones that come to mind.

Customer-centric worldview. Jobs was no slouch when it came to wanting the best for his customers, but let’s face it, the product was at the center of Steve’s universe. As he said more than once, “One of the keys to Apple is that we build products that really turn us on.” On the other hand, Drexler says things like “For us, it all starts at the store and with our customers.” Also, ““The customer can tell you a lot”.

Notably, Drexler is one of the few (only?) big-time CEOs you can call on the phone and actually talk to.

For most managers, they live and work in mature markets. In those cases, customer focus will often take your business farther than product innovation and/or aesthetic design.

Bedside manner. When you talk to Drexler’s current and former coworkers, you don’t hear stories about him “screaming” at his employees. And while when he has raised his voice, employees claim “it was never mean-spirited and it was never personal.” Drexler’s style has led to him being rated as the top retail CEO by employees. Anecdotally, my conversation with a former J Crew employee who worked with Mickey reinforced this notion when she commented on what a “great guy” he is.

Not convinced yet? At the very least I suggest you start buying your turtlenecks from J. Crew.